‘Sunderland Echo stood by the facts and not the false news and hate-filled agendas of extremist social media users’
Sunderland City Council’s leader has added his voice to praise for the Sunderland Echo’s coverage of race protests in the city.
A new Commission for Countering Extremism report heralds the paper as a “trusted voice” for how we responded to a series of far-right backed protests since 2016.
Rallies were held in the city after the Crown Prosecution Service decided there was insufficient evidence to launch a prosecution over claims “a woman had been gang raped by a group of Middle-Eastern men”.
The Challenging Hateful Extremism document explores the legal difficulties faced by the Echo and how social media disinformation proved “impossible to counter for a considerable time”.
Responding to the report, the council’s leader, Coun Graeme Miller, said: “I would like to commend the Sunderland Echo for taking a responsible role in its reporting of these sensitive issues.
“Much misinformation at the time was being promoted on unregulated social media in a highly irresponsible way, in some cases from as far away as Canada.
“The UK press and journalists have strict guidelines around reporting criminal cases which the Echo adhered to, running editorial and comment when it was appropriate to do so.
“It is pleasing to see the independent commission acknowledged our city’s local press – the Echo - as a source of responsible media in this national report to Government.
“The Echo stood by the facts and not the false news and hate-filled agendas of extremist social media users.”
Both the city council and Northumbria Police were also praised in the report for their response as protests continued through 2018.
Coun Miller said: “Here in Sunderland and the North East we have a long history of welcoming refugees, and of asylum seekers and communities living and working together.
“But what we have seen in the last few years is a rise in the number of far right extremist groups from outside of the city, targeting, exploiting and intimidating residents in an attempt to inflame tensions and create divisions where these don’t exist.
“While we fully support people’s rights to peaceful, public protest, we do take issue when this strays into what the commission would class as ‘hateful extremism’.”
The nationwide report’s section on Sunderland stresses that “many protesters were not motivated by hate” and were exploited by “far right agitators”.
Coun Miller said: “Thankfully people in Sunderland have largely remained resistant to their approaches, with only a small minority of people in the city supportive of them.”
The report concludes that “tensions and the far right’s external influence have been reduced” and notes that “leading campaigner” Billy Charlton was locked up last month for inciting racial hatred during Sunderland marches.
Coun Miller added: “We respect people's right to protest and to be concerned about local issues but were extremely concerned about the exploitation by Billy Charlton and others, from outside the city, of an issue to promote racial hatred and the potential impact that could have had on deterring victims from seeking justice from the police and courts.”
The commission’s report highlighted the Echo’s “thoughtful approach” during the protests and Joy Yates, Editorial Director for JPI Media North East, the Echo’s publisher, said: "With any criminal case and where allegations of criminal activity are made, the Echo, along with other media outlets, has strict legal guidelines that must be followed.
"We were pleased to see in the Commission's report that the Echo was recognised as a trusted voice and commended for the thoughtful approach it took when reporting on this matter.
"Our audiences expect the highest standards from our staff and it is our duty to and responsibility to always adhere to the legal guidelines that are in place."
Northumbria Police has declined the opportunity to comment.